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Easy access accounts allow you to make additions and withdrawals without having to give notice to your savings provider, or having to wait for a fixed period of time to end. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all accounts provide unlimited access. Some will limit the number of withdrawals you can make in a year, so it's always wise to look closely at the terms and conditions of an account before making your choice.
The vast majority of easy access accounts have variable rates, which means the interest rate you are offered at the start can change over time. You'll notice that the interest rates on easy access savings accounts tend to be lower than on notice or fixed accounts.
So, why get an easy access account at all? Well, these accounts are ideal for those who aren't sure if they will be able to resist accessing their savings, as well as those who want to be able to access their money in the case of an emergency; for example, if their washing machine needs repairing or their car breaks down. They can also be perfect if you want to start a savings habit, but aren't sure if you can fully commit.
No other account type offers the freedom that instant access gives, and a lot of accounts will come with low investment minimums, which means you could in some cases just put in a single pound to start saving. Of course, the more you manage to put away, the more you'll be able to earn in interest, but there's no pressure to keep saving after your initial deposit.
Broadly speaking, an instant access account will transfer your funds out instantly, so you could see them arrive in your current account within minutes, while an easy access account (otherwise known as a no notice account) can take a bit longer. However, if you do your banking online, it's likely that you won't see that much of a difference between the two.
When you get an easy access account with a bonus, however, the bonus amount is almost always fixed for a certain amount of time, usually a year. So, you won't have to worry about your interest rate falling below this level for the allotted time, which can offer peace of mind if you’re concerned about variable rates falling in the near future. They tend to offer comparable headline rates to bonus-free accounts, and have similar minimum investment limits and management options, so aside from the additional security of the guaranteed bonus, there’s little to differentiate them.
The downside of accounts that come with a bonus is that such deals are time-sensitive. The bonus will be deducted from the headline interest rate after the fixed period ends, so your rate of interest will reduce by a potentially quite substantial amount. That’s why anyone considering an instant access account with a bonus should review their rate when the bonus expires and see if they can switch to a better deal – though the variable nature of easy access accounts means savers would be wise to review their rate on a regular basis anyway.
Most easy access savings accounts pay out interest only once a year, either on a set date or on the anniversary of the account opening. Although there are some accounts that give you the option to get interest added to your savings (or paid away into your current account) every month.
However, you may have noticed that for some accounts, there's a difference between the AER and the gross interest rate on offer. The AER, or annual equivalent rate, looks at more factors than the gross rate does. The AER assumes that you're going to keep your money in the account for a year and benefit from compound interest (the interest you receive on the extra funds you accumulate via interest in the meantime).
There are many alternatives to easy access savings accounts. You could potentially get a higher interest rate while still retaining unlimited access with a high interest current account. The only downsides to these accounts are that they will usually require a certain amount of regular income and activity (such as multiple direct debits and regular monthly funding requirements), and only pay interest up to a certain balance, so if you want to get interest on more than £2,000-3,000 you could still be better off with a savings account.
The same low investment restriction applies to regular savings accounts. These tend to offer higher interest rates, but you'll only be able to put away maybe £50 to £500 per month. Additionally, most regular savers usually only allow you to access your funds again after a year, so they're not suitable for emergency pots.
Another easy access option is a variable rate cash ISA. These accounts may not offer the best interest rates, but they do allow for tax-free saving, and there are both notice and no notice options available depending on your needs.
Now that you have a clearer idea of what easy access accounts are, you may want to know how to choose between the top deals. Doing an easy access savings accounts comparison can be as easy or comprehensive as you want it to be.
For instance, you may only have £1 to invest at the start, in which case it's likely that not all the top rates will be available to you. On the other hand, if you've got a large amount that you want to retain access to, you could just go for the number one account in the charts.
There will be a few other things that people look out for when deciding, such as:
If you'd like to do your banking in branch, there's a chance that you may need to look away from the best instant access savings account rates, as these tend to be reserved for those who do their banking online. Luckily, our search results should make it easy to see which deals can be opened in branch. Then it's just a matter of seeing if the rate is up to your standards, the minimum investment limit is something you can live with and you can manage the account in branch as well. Of course, if you’re comfortable online banking, you can usually take your pick of the deals, as the best online easy access savings rate is often the best overall.
While there are still specific accounts for those who are over 50 or even 60, there are not as many as there may once have been and they tend not to pay the exclusive rates that they once did. If you desperately want one of these accounts, your best bet would be to contact your local banks or building societies. Otherwise, you may want to consider a traditional savings account, as they are likely to rival the rates of exclusive accounts and are simple to compare.
The overwhelming majority of easy access deals, including the very best instant access savings accounts, will have variable rates. There are, however, rare occasions when a fixed rate easy access deal gets released. These products may be in the guise of fixed bonds with flexible access options, and will usually be very limited and only available for a year, after which the funds may be transferred to a variable rate easy access saver.
Because they are so rare, you may think that they will be wildly appealing, but the rates on these accounts won't necessarily be market-leading. So, if you're looking to open an instant access account, don't wait around for the white whale of a fixed rate deal, as you may never find it. If you'd prefer the security of a fixed rate, you might want to consider a fixed bond instead - provided you're happy to restrict your access.
Considering all these different criteria, it's easy to see that there is not one single best easy access account. You will have to compare instant access savings accounts to find the one that best suits you. Thankfully, our search results are a great place to start, so it hopefully won't be too difficult to find what you're looking for.
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Every basic rate taxpayer in the UK currently has a Personal Savings Allowance (PSA) of £1,000.
How are my savings taxed?
Find out how much you can earn in savings interest before paying tax with our guide to the Personal Savings Allowance.
This guide tells you about the range of standard ISA and savings accounts available.